Overdependence on rice and wheat accelerates spread of urban ailments into the hinterland

To hundreds of women gathered at the Tamukkam Auditorium, it was a message that brought cheer. When the chairperson of Kalanjiam, a confederation of women’s self-help groups, Chinnapillai, recommended the consumption of millet on a daily basis, they cheered. Millet is the staple diet in many households.

The message was ‘boycott junk food; go back to small millets.’ The women and children had assembled at the Tamukkam Ground at the culmination of ‘Walkathon 2013,’ organised by Dhan Foundation with the theme — ‘Food security through agricultural biodiversity: relevance of small millets.’

Outside the venue were posters carrying information on the nutritious value of each variety of small millets such as ‘kezhvaragu’ (ragi) and ‘panivaragu’ (common millet).

Their samples were kept on display. Several speakers, including Lakshmikanthan of Vayalaga Iyakkam, explained how consumption of small millets controlled the spread of diabetes, high and low blood pressure, and anaemia. Exclusion of ‘God’s grain,’ the small millets, and overdependence on rice and wheat had accelerated the spread of urban ailments into the hinterland.

Palanichamy, the convenor of Walkathon 2013, showcased the potential of small millets to prevent malnutrition among women and children.

Pandiammal from Peraiyur recalled how food made from small millets provided them with the strength and stamina to labour in agricultural fields from dawn to dusk. The absence of millet in the daily diet was sending people to hospital, she noted.

M. P. Vasimalai, Executive Director, Dhan Foundation, speaking on the sidelines of the meet, said that the objective of organising the walkathon in 26 district headquarters in five States was to promote agricultural biodiversity through small millets. T

he Dhan Foundation had come out with a 10-point strategy to encourage cultivation of rain-fed millet. The strategy includes creation of farm ponds, preservation of oorunis (used for drinking water) and kanmais (used for irrigation) and development of orchards and seed farms.

Food processing centres to come out with value-added products such as cookies using small millets would be started in Peraiyur in Madurai district, and Anjatti and Javvadu Hills in Krishnagiri district. Research conducted by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University showed that millets facilitated slow release of sucrose and glucose and helped in controlling diabetes.

They also had high nutritional value, he said.

The walkathon of women self-help groups and students began at the Mariamman Teppakulam. A group of differently abled persons participated in it from Gandhi Memorial Museum to the Tamukkam Ground. Prizes were given away to winners of drawing and essay competitions on agricultural biodiversity conducted for school students.